Almost 3 years later, Homrich 9 appear headed to court

James David Dickson
The Detroit News

Detroit — The Homrich 9, water-rights activists charged with disorderly conduct in blocking trucks from leaving the grounds of Homrich Wrecking Inc. to conduct water shut-offs in Detroit on July 18, 2014, appear headed for their day in court nearly three years later.

The movement in the case was announced at a news conference Tuesday at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Detroit and came after a judge in December removed a stay in the case, which allowed the case to proceed.

Since 2014, hearings have been canceled, at least two judges have been involved, a jury has heard the case and been dismissed, and the now-retired judge rescinded the stay in those proceedings.

That case, along with those of activists Kim Redigan, Hans Barbe, James Perkinson, Marianne McGuire and David Olson, will be combined into one, attorneys for the defendants said. All seven face a charge of disorderly conduct, a misdemeanor, for protests at Homrich’s Detroit facility.

The Rev. Bill Wylie-Kellermann, pastor of St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, and Marian Kramer of the Michigan Welfare Rights Organization, were arraigned in the incident on Sept. 16, 2014, according to court records.

The mission of the activists on July 18, 2014, was to keep the water on for Detroiters for another day. The larger mission is water affordability, that indigent Detroiters should be billed for water based on their ability to pay. Supporters have pushed for an income-based water affordability plan.

There have been starts and stops in the case. But when Judge Michael Hathaway wrote an order removing the stay on Dec. 22, activists learned they’d have their date in court.

“I came back to work after Christmas to find a letter on my desk,” about the trial, attorney John Royal said.

Hathaway wrote in his order that has relaunched the trial: “The court demands the subject to the trial court for further proceedings.” .

The other two members of the Homrich 9 have settled their cases in court, as did one woman who resolved her case before leaving the state, or were never charged but never told they wouldn’t be. That’s the limbo Baxter Jones, who used a wheelchairdue to a pre-existing spinal injury, is in.

Jones said he believes he was never charged because of his “rough ride” in a police van, which he and attorney Julie Hurwitz said was not compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Hurwitz said Jones was “jammed” into the van in a way that made the issues with his spine worse, and wasn’t strapped in properly.

“When you’re able-bodied, you get a cold,” Jones said as his voice faded, “but when you’re disabled, you get pneumonia.”

Hurwitz and Royal are representing the defendants pro bono as part of their work for the National Lawyers Guild, a social justice-focused organization that monitors protests and helps activists defend themselves.

Neither the activists nor their attorneys deny the activists blocked passage of the trucks, which Hurwitz said prevented “hundreds” of water shut-offs.

The remaining seven are making a “necessity” defense, which Hurwitz described as breaking the law to prevent a larger injustice. Whether they should be held legally responsible for that, activists and attorneys agree, is a matter for a jury to decide.

The attorneys said they are happy to see the trial they’ve pushed for take place, and have said they believe a jury would agree. The outcome, however, is unpredictable, Hurwitz said.

A pretrial hearing is set for Jan. 19.

“Anything could happen when we go to court,” Hurwitz said.